When I left New York, I have to say I was happy to leave some of the hectic, humid bustle behind. I realized a couple weeks later, that I really missed having dozens of cuisines and their chef experts a short ride away. I really missed Italian food this week, and Pasta Pomodoro across the street wasn’t going to cut it. Sometimes I feel like charging people 10 bucks for something they could make better at home is indecent and outrageous, but then I remember that we live in the land of ten hour work days, two kids at school or in daycare, and I have to judge a little less. The other day I was watching Lidia Bastianich make a gorgeous focaccia bread that looked like it could feed a family of ten. I knew right then that what I needed was a good olive oil and tomato fix, and I had to have it.
Lidia’s recipe is a tomato onion focaccia, but the onions in the fridge that I secretly bookmarked as mine got eaten somehow, so I decided to go forth with some garlic. This recipe is quick and easy, you can substitute wheat flour for white, or use half of each, like I did. It’s one of the easiest bread doughs to make and assembly is just as easy. Waiting an hour or two for your dough to rise is totally worth it after you get the whole thing in the oven and wait for the heat to do its thing. Your house will smell like an old-school pizzeria and your family/pets will thank you, but only if you share. I halved the original recipe, since I’m trying to get my brother and my parents in better shape. Clearly, I have to lead by example, otherwise I’d just be another Rush Limbaugh.
The focaccia had the perfect texture of the ones I saw on Lidia’s trip to Italy. The ones at Whole Foods are monstrously thick–doughy and good, but not quite authentic. This popped out of the oven with the perfect amount of browning, flavor, and crunch. The smell of the olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes is a seriously powerful Neopolitan weapon; beware, or else you shall eat it all in one sitting.
Recipe (serves 4)
1 tsp traditional yeast (or 1 packet of active dry)
1/4 cup warm water to proof the yeast
3 cups of flour (I used half whole wheat, half all-purpose)
1 tsp salt
some olive oil to oil the bowl
1 cup of warm water
For the topping:
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp. olive oil
pinch of black pepper
NOTE: you don’t want to salt the topping until after you’ve put it on the bread to go into the oven. The tomatoes will release a lot of unwanted water if you salt them beforehand–> a mess
1. Proof the yeast with 1/4 cup warm water (105-115 F) in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, mix together flour and salt.
2. After yeast has proofed, add the salt and flour mixture to the mixing bowl, along with 1 cup of warm water until the dough comes together. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour. Drizzle some olive oil onto the dough and cover it on all sides so it won’t stick to the bowl when rising. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size.
3. In a bowl marinate the garlic and tomatoes with the olive oil and pepper.
4. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out into desired shape (rectangle or circle, doesn’t matter) on a baking pan until it’s about 1/2 inch thick. Dimple the top of the dough, and let it rest and rise again for about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425F.
5. Once the dough has risen for a second time, add the tomatoes, cut side up, and garlic to the focaccia. Drizzle some extra olive oil on top to make sure the dough is covered. At this point, sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of salt all over the top of the dough, paying attention to catch the tomatoes with the salt, which will help the tomatoes release their juices in the oven so the bread doesn’t get soggy.
6. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes.